But Mulvey did have a problem on Jan. 24, 1982. The Kings were on a power play, with five skaters to the Vancouver Canucks' four, when Vancouver's Tiger Williams, the NHL's alltime penalty leader, began roughhousing. Los Angeles coach Don Perry tapped Mulvey on the left shoulder and, according to Mulvey, said, "Go—and I don't want you to dance." Mulvey didn't move. Not right away, anyway. The Kings already had the Canucks outnumbered, and Mulvey didn't see the point. Only after Vancouver's Stan Smyl left the bench and a general melee broke out did Mulvey get up. He estimates the gap between the time Perry tapped him and the point at which he went onto the ice as 20 seconds.
Between periods Perry sidled up to Mulvey and said, "When I tell you to go, I expect you to go."
Mulvey replied, "Absolutely not. You got the wrong guy, Don, if you expect me to do that for you." Perry, a legendary fighter from the now defunct Eastern League, started screaming that Mulvey wouldn't stick up for his teammates. Mulvey got undressed—and never again put on an NHL uniform. "Those 20 seconds," Mulvey says, "probably cost me a million dollars."
League president John Ziegler immediately suspended Perry for 15 days and fined the Kings $5,000 for instructing a player to join an altercation, but Mulvey paid the heaviest price. For his momentary crisis of conscience he was forced to trade the neon of Los Angeles for the 50-watt frosted bulbs of New Haven, Conn., where the Kings banished him. Los Angeles released Mulvey after the season, and he spent 1982-83 with Edmonton's farm club in Moncton, New Brunswick. Worse, Mulvey grew depressed, losing 30 pounds and feeling alone and scared, wondering why even his best friends in the NHL would not support him publicly.
"There was no doubt in my mind I was blackballed," Mulvey says. "I was marked. I wasn't a game breaker, not a top-10-percenter, not a guy who made the difference, and this incident was baggage." Mulvey quit hockey after the '82-83 season, done at 24. He'd had his first upper G.I. series at age 14, been in and out of hospitals starting in juniors, because of nerves. The moment he quit, he started to get better.
Mulvey sued the Kings—"I guess you'd call it for loss of career," he says—and in 1986 he received an undisclosed cash settlement. The money represented closure, easing the bitterness toward a game that had, perversely, turned him into a hero when all he wanted to be was a player. He is remembered fondly, if at all, for refusing to goon it up, and he says he wouldn't have honored Perry's request even if he'd had a year to reflect on it. "I coach teams, and I teach five-year-olds up to 20-year-olds," Mulvey says. "I try to teach the values my father taught me about sportsmanship and respect for others."
"I was the guy who wouldn't protect my teammates, right?" Mulvey says. "Let me tell you about the last game I played in my life. I was with Moncton, and we were in Baltimore. Billy Riley, the black guy who'd been my teammate in Washington, was being harassed by three guys. I was in the penalty box, but I jumped out and chased those three guys back to their bench. Of course I was suspended, and that was it. To protect a teammate, I went. No tap. No nothing."
Louie DeBrusk is going to get this thing figured out. Maybe he will start running little guys even though his skewed notion of sportsmanship says you pick on players your own size. When Craig MacTavish was the Oilers' captain, he once upbraided DeBrusk for going easy on six-foot, 195-pound Kings defenseman Darryl Sydor in a fight that started when Sydor took exception to DeBrusk's hit on another L.A. player. "Mac-T said, 'If a guy comes at you like that, kick his ass,' " DeBrusk says. "He said, 'It doesn't matter if the guy's four foot two. In a heartbeat he'd go around you one-on-one, abusing you in his way. Why not abuse him in your way?' I was angry, because Mac-T was right. I'm learning."
No one said it would be easy.